Weezer Finally Makes the Album Its Fans Have Been Waiting For
Has Weezer finally recorded a good album, after all these years?
You have to earn a Weezer fan's trust before he shows you his playlists. First, he'll make sure you aren't just parroting somebody else's post-Pinkerton decline narrative. He'll want to be sure you don't believe bassist Matt Sharp secretly wrote both of the band's two classic albums. He'll need to know that you have favorite outtakes and demos that never came out, not even on Rivers Cuomo's Alone records.
He'll want to know that you've thought -- over and over -- about how each of the seven albums the band's released since 2001 was lacking, not just in general but in its own particular way. Maladroit has great solos but the melodies are lifeless; Make Believe has heart but the production is sterile and the songs so short on words that they break into spontaneous ooh-ing choruses. The Red Album has high highs and low lows (mention "Miss Sweeney" and "Pig" here), and Hurley is competent but hardly a Weezer album at all. You shouldn't mention Raditude yet.
Talk like that for a while, let him know you're one of them, and then you'll finally see the dark side of his iTunes library: The albums he's invented because none of the real ones could satisfy him.
He'll have so many, all of them as idiosyncratic and hard to explain as a real Weezer record. Put together the best songs from the Red Album, the outtakes the group inexplicably cut, and the few genuine Weezer songs that survived the introduction of Butch Walker and Dr. Luke to 2009's Raditude and you have Reditude, a pseudo-album that is the best evidence available that Rivers Cuomo nearly wrote a great album in 2008.
Scoop out the samey middle of the Green Album and drop your favorite 2000‑'02 songs inside; give Make Believe some edge by replacing a few songs about apologizing with demos from their aborted 2003 album. (There's one about an indignant organ player who's particularly good, and one about a homeless guy in a "Mansion of Cardboard" that is particularly not. There's one that's probably about Matt Sharp stealing his sound.)
To be a hardcore Weezer fan, since about 2005 -- since Make Believe culled the herd -- has been to develop strong opinions about every way an album can fail to be more than the sum of its parts. For hundreds of adults with unofficial Weezer message-board accounts, hearing "Buddy Holly" as a put-upon 14-year-old has led inexorably to multi-page arguments about how important album concepts are, and whether co-writing outside the band is ever acceptable, and whether "Pig" is a really profound song about theodicy or a "Bohemian Rhapsody" knock-off about a rapping farm animal.
I'm one of those adults, and "Pig" is, to be clear, a really profound song about theodicy. But most of these arguments -- the arguments that have sustained Weezer fandom and initiated flame wars for 10 years -- have existed only because Weezer really didn't release an album worth loving (or even really hating) all that time. Weezer has cultivated the perfect fandom environment: An unpredictable genius, a firehose of flawed (but easily remixed) output, a public position that lurches wildly between pleasing the fans (A cruise! A tour on which they play only Pinkerton!) and telling them that they'll get "I'm Your Daddy" and "The Girl Got Hot" and they'll like it. Weezer fandom is like one of those diets where almost starving on a regular basis somehow makes you stronger.
The public position will probably shift again, and the genius will remain unpredictable, and a trickle of long-lost demos will continue to leak from unlikely sources. (There are hundreds of them on tape.) Dr. Luke might even come back, eventually. But with Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer fans finally have gotten the third great album we've wanted all along. And it's hard to know what we're supposed to do about that on a message board.
Rivers Cuomo and longtime producer Ric Ocasek have finally done the playlist work for us. On 2010's Hurley, they had no problems setting an earnest acoustic anthem about premarital discord and a novelty track called "Where's My Sex" back to back. On Everything Will Be Alright they didn't just sweat the sequencing, they built the album's pre-release marketing around it, releasing a series of teaser videos about a would-be time traveler with Buddy Holly glasses sifting the evidence and organizing the songs into three overarching themes.
Every stock complaint about the group's imperfect albums has been addressed. The stifling polish of Green and Make Believe has been scraped off without revealing the skeletal, antagonistic Maladroit robot underneath; the ambition of Red is tempered by the restraint of Hurley without vanishing entirely.
But the band never really repudiates those wrong-right turns, either -- unlike its past comebacks, this one isn't so determined to answer the biggest question about its last record than raising 10 new ones.
There are still co-writes -- they're just subtler. And when this record builds to its triumphant conclusion, it doesn't reach for the open-hearted angst of "Only in Dreams" or "Butterfly" -- it reaches back to the '70s rock they loved as kids for a string of proggy guitar solos that are completely self-aware without ever sounding campy. When Cuomo climbs into his falsetto and insists he has "looked at my life, looked at my friends, looked in the eyes of my enemies," it is clear he means it, exclamation point. It's "Only in Dreams" filtered through the shattered, goofy band that once insisted they'd spent their late-'90s hiatus doing nothing but smoking pot and listening to Rush.
It's doesn't reach the heights of the Blue Album or Pinkerton -- in fact, there probably isn't anything quite as good as "Pig" here, either. But it's the album you might expect the guy who wrote Pinkerton to make in 2014, after he's been centered by fatherhood, chastened by the death of guitar-heavy pop music, and challenged by a fanbase that is convinced he keeps almost doing it right.
The result is 13 songs that don't just reveal what Rivers is thinking -- another message board trope, 15 years old -- they reveal that he's been thinking systematically. Failing as a pop star, forgiving his own father, forsaking the "Smart Girls" he celebrated in Hurley in favor of the right one -- all of it's tied together in a way that allows "Eulogy for a Rock Band," about singing melodies long after the singer's gone, to "really" be about fatherhood.
It begins with "Ain't Got Nobody," a song that announces a starting place for every theme: "That's human nature / We fail each other / And keep on searching for another." When it ends, with "Foolish Father" begging forgiveness for all those failings and hoping we can stay together in spite of them, there's a coherence Weezer hasn't achieved since Pinkerton started with "Tired of Sex" and ended with yet another betrayal.
It's a Weezer album that's about one thing: The way time destroys the things we build together, and what you do as they're coming apart. If you spend a lot of time on Weezer message boards, that might be as instructive as it is exciting to finally hear.
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